7 Tips for Editing Poetry

Editing your own poetry can be a scary endeavor. Editing may be difficult at first, but once practiced the journey of creating your best work is empowering.

  1. Read it at least twice. Read your poem multiple times before attempting to alter it for deeper meanings. Give yourself a chance to thoroughly and fully experience the poem. Skim over your poem’s title, which may contain important clues for understanding it. The title is often an introduction that can guide you; for example, Langston Hughes’ “Mother to Son” immediately lets you know who the speaker of the poem is and to whom she is speaking. Does your poem’s title suggest a clue about the rest of the poem? Sometimes readers will assume that the speaker is the poet. Ask yourself if this is your intention.
  2. Do not be afraid. How much can you say in as few words as possible? Don’t let the fear of writing “too much” hold you back during your first draft. Your revisions should consist of language cuts and additions. You may realize that a line or stanza can be changed or developed. It is important to pay attention to word choice. For example, maybe the phrase “egg yolk yellow” offers a closer image to your meaning than just “yellow.”
  3. Use a thesaurus. Developing your vocabulary is one of the perks of editing. Force yourself to experiment with word choice. Using the right word will improve your reader’s experience. Identify the direction your poem is taking, and what your intention is.
  4. Pay attention to punctuation. Most poems use punctuation to help guide the voice of its reader. The end of a line is sometimes not the end of a sentence.
  5. Look for patterns and images. The patterns and images of a poem help direct interpretation. Choosing an image that continues through the poem will help identify the meaning. For instance, are your stanzas about the same number of lines? What do the line breaks look like now that the poem is typed? Do your images collide--e.g. using the image of “rings of a tree” next to the “color of your pen”--without a purpose?
  6. Try something new. Read your poem out loud! Listen for the rhythm of your poem. Do you have a natural flow that is interrupted by hard sound where you need a soft one, or a word with too many syllables (or not enough)? Do you have natural alliteration, assonance, or consonance that you want to develop? And hey, if all the words start to sound like gibberish -- take a break! Put your poem down for an hour or a day, and come back to it with fresh eyes and ears.
  7. Power Poetry. Post and repost versions of your poem on Power Poetry. Take advantage of the community to gauge others’ reactions to your changes, and see how different versions of your works impact your audience.


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